Opinion| Oh Rats! What to do with Sault Rodent-Abatement Program?

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City staff are pretty solid in suggesting to council that it is time to discontinue the rodent-abatement program for private properties.

Councillors, with some chinks in their solidarity, don’t seem to want to see it go.

Yet even though they had an amended resolution before them at their Sept. 26 meeting calling for its retention, they put off making a decision until they received some further clarification from staff regarding finances.

I have been of two minds on the issue ever since it arose.

On one hand, I have always considered rodents – and I am talking about rats rather than mice – as a community problem.

Yet on the other, I readily understand that some people bring such problems on themselves by the state in which they keep their property.

But, as Coun. Ross Romanow pointed out, this can happen in clean yards as well.

I consider our home as an example of that, although there is no doubt the problem my wife Barbara and I encountered was of our own making.

A few winters back I noticed there were tunnels in the snow in the back yard but didn’t really think anything about it.

But when I came home one day during the following winter, Barbara informed me that we had had an interesting furry little visitor in our back yard.

She said her interest quickly turned to horror when she realized it was a rat that was eating the bread and peanut butter we usually put out for the crows.

At that time we each day put out a half a loaf of sliced bread covered with peanut butter for the crows, placed peanuts in an opening in a maple tree for the squirrels, and loaded bird feeders for the birds, which included pigeons.

A lot of the bird feed, of course, spilled onto the ground, easily accessible to rats.

We had a shed in the back yard and the rats, we don’t really know if there was more than one as only one was seen, were living beneath it. There was just one small hole they were using for access.

We made use of the service the city offered through Algoma Public Health, a pest control officer placing poisoned bait near the shed.

But education was what resulted in the fact we have not had any further problems. We were told to make sure there was no further access to beneath the shed and to stop feeding the birds, because the rats were probably eating as much as they were.

However, even though I took advantage of the rodent-abatement program at no cost to myself, I think city staff are going down the right road in recommending that it be discontinued.

After all, the Sault and Windsor are the only remaining cities in the province to offer such a program and unless there really is a problem with how a property has been kept, the cost to the individual homeowner shouldn’t be that great.

In my case the person who attended was not here more than 20 minutes. He simply checked out the back yard, found where the rats were living and stomped some poison bait into the snow near the shed and then enlightened us to what to do on our own about the problem – quit feeding the birds and squirrels.

Point taken, no more rats.

A report to council indicates the recent annual activity undertaken by the bylaw enforcement officer was 1,500 site visits for 2014, 2,000 for 2015 and 820 to June 30 this year. It doesn’t say what the site visits entailed.

Larry Girardi, deputy chief administrative officer, said the present budget for rodent abatement of $29,000 annually would be exhausted as of September 30.

“If Council chooses to continue with the program in some form, then funding will be required for the months of October through to the end of December at a rate of $3038 per month totalling $9,114 plus applicable taxes,” he said.

He said this was based on using the recommended service provider as a result of the RFP for rodent abatement and indicated an increase in funding would be required for 2017. He said at this time there is insufficient funding for a complete year and such funding would be ongoing.

And it would, of course, increase over time as everything does.

I would suggest the writing is on the wall for such a program.

It is not a heavy expense for the city and at the moment is in the budget but in such trying financial times every dollar that can be saved should be saved.

And it should be noted that the Sault would soon be alone in offering such a program.

Windsor has recently introduced a pilot program of collecting user fees to reduce the costs of providing the service but apparently intends to phase it out completely because of rising costs.

All costs associated with addressing rodent issues on private property would then be the responsibility of the property owner.

I think it is a conclusion that our council will eventually reach, if not now within a short time.

I say why wait? All that putting the decision off for a year or two is going to do is bring about more staff reports recommending the same thing and more wrangling in council, a lot of work and hot air being wasted on the inevitable.

Get it done.

Doug Millroy can be reached at millroy@gmail.com.

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